Moogfest Moments 2019 Part 2 or Clem Burke is not a Metronome
Part of the Moogfest manifesto is the celebration of inventiveness and ingenuity in electronic instruments. Thursday’s programming in the big hall of CTD celebrated a blending the earliest mechanized playback--the piano roll--and later innovation--the Moog-Buchla PianoBar in what Money Mark called the Echolodeon.
Money Mark has collaborated significantly as a performer, writer, and producer with the Beastie Boys and Beck (the catchy keys on “Where It’s At” are his) and is touring this summer as part of the mind-blowing supergroup The Claypool Lennon Delirium. He is the kind of musical mad scientist that Moogfest celebrates.
Kicking off Moogfest 2019 in the big hall, Money Mark filled the stage with what is best accurately described as musical contraptions: a modified boombox that made him a one man hip hop ensemble, a drum kit tricked out with automated mallets and sticks to become a machine-played drum kit, a regular drum kit, which would have a human player, and a U shape array of keyboards, including a foot-played Moog (one that would appear the following night in the Dorit Chrysler theremin show). In the center was a pneumatic pump and piano roll that fed data to the PianoBar, which was then synthesized and played: the Echolodeon. Or at least that’s what I got in the 2 times over the weekend I caught him playing in what he billed “Money Mark v. The Dead Pianist.” Because a pianist’s exact playing of the tune is recorded in the punch holes of the piano roll, the long dead artist is made to play through the synthesized sound. Woh.
The sheer array of items was astounding, but the Echoldeon was the star. The piano roll he was using, over 100 years old, was the music for “Amazing Grace.” After converting the signal to midi, he manipulated the sound through the synthesizer--a very different sound. To learn more about the Echolodeon, here’s a ScienceFriday segment:
Also on the bill Thursday was another producer-artist, Craig Leon. Leon is Singles Going Steady Podcast royalty by virtue of his work with so many of our darlings: The Ramones, Blondie, and Richard Hell, among others. His performance was a conceptual piece, a continuation of his earlier “Nommos” work. It will be released as “The Canon: The Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Volume 2.” About 20 minutes into the performance, I wondered if I was being taken over by prog fever of some kind, since I’d seen Utopia in that room a few months before and Adrian Belew a few weeks prior. Am I a prog rocker? Can’t be….
As with many of the Moogfest pieces, the video accompaniment was an integral part of the experience. There is a complex alien visitation and anthropological underpinning to the piece. Heady stuff. But my real excitement was to hear Leon and Blondie keyboardist, Jimmy Destri, in conversation the following day.
Destri is super affable and inventive. He talked some about being influenced by prog rock, especially King Crimson, which is not what you expect coming from the CBGB’s scene. He described playing the Farfisa through Leslie cabinets for some gigs, often doubling the guitar line.
There was a lot of gear talk, Destri described using the PolyMoog on Rapture, and then lamenting losing a pair of PolyMoogs and a Hammond during the flooding from Sandy. He and Leon talked about working with Giorgio Moroder on Call Me, on which Destri played an ARP Odyssey. Blondie had an interest in disco, and I think they played “I Feel Love” as a cover in the early days. This lead to a little drummer talk.
First, they gushed about the live drums on “I Feel Love,” an otherwise Moog-born synth piece. “I Feel Love” really was a seismic shift in how everyone thought of making music, and of course Moogfest would bear this reverence out. (If you haven’t heard 026 Sparks/Number One In Heaven www.tinyurl.com/zubno1in, we talk about the song, Moroder, and their influence). This lead into a discussion of producing the Blondie records. Evidently, drummer Clem Burke did NOT play to a click track. As they began adding more and more electronic elements to Blondie, this took more and more of a work around, Destri bringing in a drum machine, and more synths--he was clearly vital in Blondie’s best known records. Even the metronome itself got a turn on final recordings. Destri was with the band for the comeback album, “No Exit,” and the big hit “Maria,” but left the band last decade. It was wonderful being a fly on the wall for old comrades from the early days of American punk to talk about its inner workings.
As Destri and Leon swapped stories, the subject of the first Ramones album, which Leon produced came up. Destri joked, “you had to overdub DeeDee if he had to play more than one string!” So I guess that’s a pretty telling about the true punk, DIY roots of the rhythm sections of Blondie and The Ramones. And Clem Burke gets his moment in the sun as the subject of a new documentary My View: Clem Burke https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgpL1loMCq4
Next time, I’ll wonder why Martin Gore keeps showing up where I am.